Archive for October, 2013

‘Pick the marginal thing…’

Posted: October 30, 2013 by Janet Fitch in Uncategorized

From Kristin P.

The following are my notes from my very first class with Les, at UCLA’s Rolfe Hall on January 18, 2011. I always attempted to take down his short phrases verbatim….

When you start to write, you want to see what attaches to the picture.

Words get stale, think of new ways to employ them.

Fill in the blanks as a way to find the image.

Skip ahead.

Pick the marginal thing. Look off the main thing.

Pass around objects.

The thinking is taking up your mind. Start seeing.

See where your characters are.

Find a way to tell it.

Find a compelling character to follow, until your work becomes a lot more of that.

Bring one page, double spaced, 18 copies, to each class. For next week, write a list in the negative, like “This is not…” or “You are not…” etc.. Bring a picture. Three additional pages for Les each week.

Les’ book and author references [please forgive the hazy titles, he always threw these out on the fly]:
The Collected Works of Billy the Kid
Troutfishing in America
A Kind of Testament
Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson
Ferdydurke, by Gombrowicz
Brand Upon the Brain, by Guy Madden
Lithium for Medea, by Kate Braverman
Play It As It Lays, by Joan Didion
Kitaj book
John Rechy, LA writer
Richard Russo’s short stories

First-class Pleskoisms

Posted: October 25, 2013 by jamieschaffner in pleskoisms

From Virgpaz

A few Pleskoisms straight from my first-class-with-Les-notebook:
About writing scene by scene in a novel: “If you like the scene, it really happened.”
And about building a character bit by bit: “Like a dark room, fixate on a shape coming to life. Then see what it really looks like.”
“Like a cobbler, fix as you go.”
“Where there’s speaking there’s also thinking.”
Thinking about the first person narrator: “Of course he watched this! There’s no other watcher, no other thinker, no other looker, no other do-er.”
“Characters don’t realize they’re in novels.”
Upon being asked what a cliché really was….”Anything you’ve read before in exactly the same words, shortcuts for saying real things.”


“Find a better word…”

Posted: October 21, 2013 by Janet Fitch in pleskoisms

From Nathalie Kramer

The first time Les commented on my ten pages was the first time I met him at his writer’s group in Venice.
Les said: “This has energy!” He was more excited than anyone in the group about my pages. There were certain things in the writing and formatting that needed help, and if I were to read these pages now, I would think: This writer must have never gone to school except High School and clearly her first language is NOT English.
Les, of course saw beyond that.
Les encouraged my heart to speak on the page.
He said that it might actually be a gift to not have had college education and have French as a first language.
Les encouraged my bravery, my need to learn and be a better writer.
Every time I sit down to write, I hear Les: ” Find a better word.” “Find a better way to say this.” Except sometimes, cuz it’s “swell.” or every once in a great while, “GREAT!”

The Writing Life

Posted: October 20, 2013 by jamieschaffner in Uncategorized

by Les Plesko

There is somebody in this room who will become a writer. There’s someone here seduced enough by the vision you see, or think you see, that you’ll keep going. You are the person here who has wanted this all your life.

You’ve spent your time seized by vague longings for a lost world you’ve glimpsed, and you can’t get it out of your head. The feeling is so strong it makes you desperate. Any small sight or smell can set it off. You have carried this seed around like a lump in your throat, or a swelling in your chest. You have felt It rise and thought, “Why not me?” or “I can do this,” but then, perhaps, “life” took over. Yet you always felt your real life was waiting for you somewhere else. You know there’s something you should be doing that’s being neglected, and it is. It’s your writing calling you.

If you follow your heart, if you don’t quit, as most do, because writing is hard, I can tell you what will happen to you. Luckily, you will forget it. Then remember, then forget again.

Writing will break you and mend you. It will tear up your heart, but the heart heals and grows stronger. You will shatter yourself as you now know yourself, and you will welcome the shattering. In the course of the writing you will know exhilaration such as you’ve never known, like the top of your head has come off, and your chest aches, and you’ll weep tears of joy. And tears of grief, and frustration, and a bottomless sinking, but you will forget this when the exhilaration returns. And you will chase this. You will find It again. You’ll say, “Yes, this is why.”

Everything you thought you knew will be proved wrong. Everything you thought was important and necessary will fall away. If you love someone, your love will be tried. It may survive. If you’re looking for love, God forbid, you’ll find it. You will be in danger. You think you’ll die but you may live. You will grasp a new reality only to lose it again, until a newer reality seizes you. You will see the light, then it will fade until another light appears. You will follow the lights down into yourself. You will be broken and you will be recast. You will have a deep and abiding spiritual experience, and then you will lose it and wonder, “Where did it go? What was It I felt?” And you will say to yourself, “Of course I can stop.” And of course you can. Sure, you can stop, but only at the risk of your soul. You’ll know this. So you will risk everything, again. You will be heartsick and afraid, then heart-swollen and fearless. Writing will infect your life until it is your life, and there will be no turning back. You will learn what bravery is. You will be utterly and irrevocably transformed.

You will wonder, “How did I get here?” But you’ll know how. Then you’ll get back to work.

Wind ’em up, let ’em go

Posted: October 15, 2013 by Janet Fitch in pleskoisms

From Jamie Schaffner

How to write a scene: Place your characters in a room, wind them up like those little kid toys, and let ‘em go.



Posted: October 11, 2013 by Janet Fitch in pleskoisms

From Sovann Somreth

Weird? I’ll take weirdness any day. Normal people scare me.

-Les Plesko

The emotional content of the novel…

Posted: October 10, 2013 by Janet Fitch in pleskoisms

From Janet Clare:

“The emotional content of the novel is more important than the forward movement of the story. In fact, it is the story.” Les Plesko

Writing will infect your life until it is your life

Posted: October 6, 2013 by AStrauss in pleskoisms
By Kanani Fong

I’d been traveling in India, where all good ideas either die or flourish. I decided I wanted to be a writer. When I got back to L.A. a huge catalog from UCLA Extension landed in my mailbox. I signed up for Novel 1 because I figured you have to start at “one.” Besides, it was the only class that fit into my schedule, since I had to come from 40 miles away. I wish I could claim to have known who he was, but I didn’t. It was sheer luck.

While waiting for class to begin, the students started hauling out chapters of their works in progress. One lady had 475 pages, another had 500. They talked about the other workshops they’d taken. I was nervous because this was my first writing class. The talk stopped when he came into the room wearing a lime green linen suit. The wild hair, the loud lime green, his eye that seemed to be looking at 2nd base were showstoppers. I remember thinking “This must be how West L.A. people dress.” Over the course of the summer, the lime green suit come back in pieces. Sometimes he’d wear the the pants and a t-shirt with holes, or the jacket would appear with a pair of shorts. Everything about Les was eccentric, even his old rootbeer-colored car that shuddered when he drove it. But his eccentricities would fade when he shared his enthusiasm about writing, along with samples by Larry Levis, David Francis, Anne Carson, Hemingway and more. He was an artist. Few had his unerring sensibilities for beauty, simplicity, and how to declutter a page.

Les once wrote to his students: “Writing will infect your life until it is your life, and there will be no turning back. You will learn what bravery is. You will be utterly and irrevocably transformed. You will wonder, “How did I get here?” But you’ll know how. Then you’ll get back to work.”

My first class with Les was in 2001. The last class was in 2007. My last sighting of the lime green jacket was sometime in 2003. I saw him the last time in 2012, and told him that I’ve stuck with it and told him about my work with projects that have to do with war. He was excited, and later, sent me his book. I didn’t get to catch up with him, but it’s less important than knowing this: His job with me was complete. I have transformed. And as Les would say, “Swell.”

Handwritten Crits

Posted: October 3, 2013 by Janet Fitch in Uncategorized

From Susan Anderson

In three quarters with Les, in his Advanced Novel IV and V classes, I was able to generate a draft of my first novel. I revised between April and June, gave it to Les who gave me comments in July. I revised the manuscript and sent it to two readers, then revised again. In August, I wrote to Les saying that I would be starting a new novel and probably sign up for his class in January. Then, the news that he killed himself. That was September. Every now and then, I look at his handwritten remarks on my manuscript pages and think of them as an essence he left behind.


Memorial Chapbook

Posted: October 3, 2013 by Janet Fitch in Uncategorized

From Pam Alster

For anyone who didn’t receive a copy of the Les Plesko Memorial Chapbook – check out my Pam Alster FB Page for a PDF copy.